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I always have fond memories of the film Species. I remember first seeing it when I was no older then about ten. Of course, back then monsters and zombies were the all the rage in my youth; those kinds of things really got me hyper. For this reason, you could even say that Species has more of a nostalgic momentum to myself than it may to most newcomers. But now I'm a tad older and a good deal wiser, can this hit from the good old glitzy ninety's remain the same entertainer in the new century?

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Movie
What is it about sci-fi babes? Jeri Ryan from Star Trek: Voyager has, on more than one occasion, been touted as the best thing on that show; Carrie Fisher melted the hearts of millions back in the 70s and early 80s, and of course Species also gave birth to the sensuous Natasha Henstridge. She might not be around the complexes as frequently as us blokes would like her to be these days, but she sure as hell made a mighty crater some ten years ago. A bit of research on the trusty Internet, and I found that Natasha Henstridge was quite often unofficially referred to as ‘that chick from Species’. Maybe that gives you just a hint of her ascendancy into cult babe-heaven and how this film became her canvas, her fabric to stardom if you will.

Species is all about DNA. When a team of scientists discover an alien way to splice the human DNA structure to a new form, Sil is their result; a part human, part alien hybrid that not only looks sumptuous, but has a deadly fury. She is also desperate to mate with another human! I know what you’re thinking; this is a porn movie with a glossy cover, but I can honestly say that it has by far more context than the synopses would have you believe. Okay, maybe not, but the onslaught of action, pulse-pounding entertainment and yes, eye-candy, all go to makes Species a scrawny, but delightful filler.

Let’s talk for a moment about the premise. Concept: sexy alien wants to mate with man to ensure her survival. Reality: big bucks galore for studio execs and lots of men flocking to the cinema with their disgruntled girlfriends! Okay, so the writer nailed it, but what of the director and the all-important production team? Well, while Species was never going to win any major awards, its production is certainly noteworthy. Sets are big, textured and quite often beyond the scope the rather tight budget would call for. Relevant accolades can be distributed to Aussie director Roger Donaldson for many of these subtle values. While his overall effort may not be his best, you simply cannot overlook just how much work he fuelled into the production team, both creative and artistic.

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One other thing to notice about Species is the strength of its primary cast. Never again will you see such quintessential talent peppered throughout what is really just a cheesy sci-fi flick. Ben Kingsley (Schindler’s List), Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) Alfred Molina (Spiderman 2) and Forest Whitaker (whose mysterious glare never gets tiring) administer some great energy into their roles (not least from Kingsley; a cinematic god of an actor of ever there was one). He may vaguely look like Patrick Stewart, and is equally as talented, but Kingsley is a truly unique screen presence. Aside from Henstridge, he is one of the main reasons you should rent out, or better yet, buy into this DVD package. Casting doesn’t really come more inspired or impressive. That goes without saying, especially when you have to sit through genre films that are populated by a bucket-full of teen hopefuls who can’t act for toffee!

A few minor gripes aside, I would recommend Species to anyone who right about now thinks what they have read sounds interesting. If you read into the general plot and you think to yourself ‘yeah, sounds pretty good this’, then you will likely find that it will do fullest justice to your anticipation. On the other hand, if you think the concept sucks, you can count on it to disappoint. Take your pick.

Video
Presented in an exuberantly wide 2.35:1 aspect radio and with an overly strong cinematic colour palette and colour levels, Species really does shine. While it could have been a tad more polished in certain areas (with certain regard extending to sharpness issues) the image can’t really be flawed on any major level. I would have liked to see a print that was cleaned up a bit more in places and perhaps slightly stronger black levels, but other than that it looks great.

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With the film mixing very bright scientific shoots with the gloomy darks of a bitter night (where part of the action takes place), the transfer does hold up well with these rapid transitions. Darker scenes are usually quite easy to make out; the contrast levels were correctly handled throughout. Brighter scenes may illuminate the grain on the image, but for the age of the film it appears quite minimal overall.

Audio
Given the real special edition treatment, Species has not just an awesome Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack to flaunt, but an even meatier DTS 5.1 soundtrack too! Once again you can depend on the DTS track for slightly better audio all around, but the Dolby mix is equally loaded with some great clarity. Surround in this film is actually quite strong, but it was with the Dolby mix that I found this range to be more audible. Surprising, but then again the LFE on the DTS was by far the superior specimen of the two.

Generally both were fairly evenly matched with the centre channel output, and yet again with the front speakers. In all, and for pure argument’s sake, I would once more favour the DTS track over Dolby’s effort. While the differences were minor in this case, and both are equally as good as each other, DTS would get my vote. On the whole everything just seemed slightly sharper and a tad crisper (especially on the opening credits).

Extras
Wow! Two whole commentary tracks can be found here! The first is from the director himself and taking up the rear, Natasha Henstridge and the smooth-talking Michael Madsen. I love this track, it’s so laid-back and casual. While you can expect to learn almost nothing about film, it is hands down one of the most fun tracks I have heard in quite some time.

The second track also has the director present, who is joined by a producer and several special effects executives. This is definitely the one to check out if you are into the art of film production and it generally has a more serious undertone that the previous commentary.

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Let’s move on to the second disc. The first feature, entitled ‘The Concept’ runs for about seventeen minutes and walks you through various stages of production. It is fairly generic but does contain plenty of great interview segments and some thoroughly detailed hands-on material.

‘The Origin’ is a ten-minute walkthrough with the writer Dennis Feldman and is one of my personal favourites. Being a film writing hopeful myself, I found Feldman to be an informative teacher and someone who doesn’t come across as being overly obnoxious or scarce with the nitty-gritty. One for the film student for sure!

‘The Discovery’ is another generic twenty-minute feature that failed to lure me in as much as the previous features, but was still moderately entertaining. ‘Alternate Endings’ lasts for about two minutes and enlightens us to a much blander version of the climactic end. ‘Designing a Hybrid’ is a fifteen-minute feature unveiling information on all the alien makeup/visual effect aspects of the film. ‘HR Giger at Work’ is a robust feature about the man himself, the man behind some of cinema’s finest creature designs. Here, we get so see his modestly overlooked work for Species and all the effort he put into it.

Finally, ‘Species III: Set Invasion’ is a mundane featurette that doesn’t do anything for the forthcoming film. If anything, it highlights the fact that it’ll likely be a complete disaster. Not the best way to end a feature disc as good as this.

Overall
If it weren’t for the stellar cast and some gaggling eye-candy (a rather asinine statement to make, I know), then Species wouldn’t be as good nor as remotely entertaining as it is today. That isn’t to say it’s completely flawless however. Au contraire, it is far from it, but the aforementioned really do add to the weighty exterior of the film. In all, it hasn’t lost much steam over these past years and (for me especially) it holds a special place in my heart. It isn’t a great film and it’s certainly far from being a cult classic, but it would make a worthy addition to your Saturday night film-fest!

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The bonus disc and provided commentary tracks on disc one are simply superb. MGM have unloaded plenty of material and packaged these discs in a thoroughly well deserved boxed set that fans can take joy in owning. As for newcomers, you might want to just check it out purely on the merits of the video and audio aspects. They are worthy of recognition on their own.


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